Categories
Biking How-to Parenting

Bike camping from Ann Arbor to Pinckney Rec Area

COVID-19 shattered my “fun aspirations for 2020” list, but one survivor is bike camping. I’m planning that trip (this weekend). It will be my first time camping via bike so I’m reading up and asking questions. In particular I’m focused on getting there and back, with two kids and our gear. Here are some notes on routes and logistics, to help me & others in the future and to see if anyone has other ideas.

Where to Bike Camp around Ann Arbor

The closest campsite to Ann Arbor that I’m aware of is Crooked Lake Rustic Campground, at Pinckney Rec Area. I’ve camped here via car several times so know what I’m getting. But I’m curious to know of other camping options within ~25 miles from Ann Arbor.

Getting There via Bike

For this post, let’s assume a starting point of Michigan Stadium. Google Maps suggests taking Dexter-Ann Arbor road to Dexter, then Island Lake Road to Dexter Townhall Road. Total 18.5 miles. This is the route I use to drive there.

Default path from Google Maps
Categories
Local reporting Politics

The national story behind the 2020 Washtenaw County prosecutor’s election

To fully understand the 2020 election for Washtenaw County Prosecutor, it must be seen in the national context, where a split over how to improve the criminal justice system is playing out in prosecutorial elections in counties all across America. Ours is just one of those.

In the last few years, activists across America have sought to elect progressive district attorneys who come from outside the system and openly pledge to disrupt it. The highest-profile case is that of Philadelphia’s Larry Krasner, who compared his 2017 election as district attorney to “the pirates taking control of the ship.”

Here’s his response after already assuming the role of Philadelphia’s district attorney – as to what the role of prosecutors has been in the disaster that is the criminal justice system in America:

WATKINS (Interviewer) : Prior to this you were a lifelong defense attorney and something of an antagonist of the system. You had a front-row seat to what you’ve called in a couple places, “the slow- motion car crash of the criminal justice system.” What role do you think prosecutors played in this car crash, one I suppose we now call mass incarceration?

KRASNER: I would say that they built the car, maintained it poorly, tuned it incorrectly, and deliberately drove it into the wall at the highest speed possible while intoxicated. I would say they played a pretty big role in causing a slow-motion car crash and they did it in their capacity as prosecutors working in the office. But also very often, they then went on into politics where they had sway over legislation or where they had discretion as elected officials to do things in positions other than chief prosecutor, and frankly, continued to do bad things.

Categories
Parenting ruminations

Prediction: Ann Arbor Public Schools will be completely virtual for the 2020-21 school year

It suddenly seems clear to me that plans for in-person instruction this year are wishful thinking at best and a distraction at worst.

A viable plan for in-person school would require (a) re-imagining how schools operate and (b) additional funding for implementation. The district probably can’t pull off the first on its own and the second is definitely outside its control. In a better world, leadership at the state and federal levels would contribute ideas and funding. In such a world, we might even contain COVID-19 to the point that kids and teachers can return to school without imaginative plans.

But based on the last few months and where things stand now, I bet kids won’t set foot in Ann Arbor Public Schools classrooms this entire school year.  Anyone want to wager I’m wrong?

Here’s hoping I can return to this post in coming months and laugh at how foolishly pessimistic I was.  But in the meantime, I’ll plan for the worst.

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Climate change Local reporting Politics

It’s time to hit pause on proposed I-94 Operational Improvements

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is considering possible improvements to I-94, south of Ann Arbor. The timing is lucky: they were still in the study phase when the impact of COVID-19 emerged and there’s time to hit the pause button. For fiscal and environmental reasons, and to meet its stated goals, the state should indefinitely halt any investments in this stretch of highway.

Background

This project would add capacity to the stretch between Ann Arbor-Saline Road and US-23 pictured here:

Source: MDOT

MDOT’s objectives for this stretch include accommodating an increased volume of traffic. They seek to “reduce recurring peak period congestion along the corridor and improve travel time reliability” as well as “provide reasonable capacity to address existing and 20-year forecasted 2045 traffic demand along the corridor.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the case for spending millions to improve traffic flow on this stretch. We can no longer afford this project, but luckily, we also no longer need it.

Categories
DIY Gardening How-to ruminations

Building a hugelkultur mound in a city backyard

This was a leap-of-faith project during Michigan’s bleak COVID-19 “shelter-in-place” period. I’m documenting it here as a plan for building a hugelkultur bed on a small city lot as well as to preserve a pleasant COVID-19 memory. Behold the thriving hugelkultur mound:

It’s exploding with vegetables – see below for pictures of the hill itself

Hugelkultur is a permaculture concept where you pile up organic material (logs, leaves, compost, etc.) and then grow a garden on top of it. Here is a good explanation of hugelkultur and its benefits. It’s also a fun word to say. We refer to our mound as “the hugel” [German for hill].

This was the perfect COVID-19 project. Under lockdown in April, we had nowhere to go. I was spending lots of time with my kids at home during the day. And I wanted to be outside. Building a garden bed with the materials at hand was a small act of protest against the feeling of being dependent on a global supply chain whose fragility had suddenly been exposed. I couldn’t easily get soil or lumber delivered for a conventional raised bed. And crucially, the city’s compost and yard waste collection was about to resume for the spring, so my neighbors had their maximum amount of organic material awaiting disposal.

Starting with a hole

Categories
Politics

The Factions of Ann Arbor City Politics and Why They’re A Problem

One might look at the makeup of Ann Arbor’s city council, or candidates running for a ward seat, and think that the partisan battle has been decided: they’re all Democrats.  But under the Democratic label, there are two dominant, warring factions in Ann Arbor politics.  Together they occupy a share of local power and attention similar to that held by Democrats & Republicans on the national scale.  That is to say, nearly all of it: votes, endorsements, donations, who runs for office, and which resolutions even come to the table.  The last non-factional candidate to hold office, Sabra Briere, stepped down in 2016.

This dynamic is the driving force in all aspects of city politics.  It’s invisible to those who aren’t active observers, yet it’s impossible to cast an informed vote without this knowledge. If you’re choosing which candidate to vote for, knowing which faction they align with tells you more about how they will caucus and vote than what’s on their website.

It’s trickier to explain than the well-understood labels of Democrats vs. Republicans, though.  Other articles have acknowledged the factions, but not in a way that is both comprehensive and seeks to be objective.  Here I attempt to describe this dynamic and its consequences.

The Main Takeaways:

  1. Ann Arbor politics are dominated by two camps, the Protectors and the Strivers.
  2. Factional alignment is the best indicator of how an elected official will caucus and vote, more so than what’s stated on their website.
  3. This dynamic is toxic and impedes good governance.
Categories
Gardening

Do curly and Red Russian kales cross-polinate?

Last year I grew curly kale (starts from the farmer’s market) and Red Russian kale (replanted annually in my own garden since about 2012). They overwintered, flowered, and are now falling over under the weight of their seed pods.

I plan to harvest the seeds and wondered, will the resulting plants be a cross between the varieties, given that the plants are flowering just a couple of feet apart from each other? It appears they won’t, because the two kales are actually different species. According to the Comox Valley Growers and Seed Savers (2015):

All the curly kales and the lacinato belong to the brassica oleracea species. They will cross with each other and with many other crucifers – cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and collard greens.

The Red Russian and Siberian kales belong to brassica napus species and will cross with each other but not with the other kales. They will also cross with rutabagas, rape and canola. It seems that the napus variety can self pollinate without suffering from inbreeding depression and also it does not have a self incompatibility mechanism which so many plants do.

So the two varieties of kale should stay true in their seeds. We’ll see next year!

Categories
How-to Repair

Sand the bottom of a door that sticks without taking it off its hinges

Problem: a wood bathroom door rubs slightly on the tile of a bathroom floor at the midpoint in its swing, sticking in place. I wanted to sand off the tiniest bit so that it swings free.  But it wasn’t worth removing the door from its hinges.

Solution: get some rough sandpaper (I used 60 grit) and an old magazine. Open a dozen pages of the magazine and lay the sandpaper on top, grit up. (Without the magazine padding I’d be nervous that I’d mar the tile floor). Put this stack at a point in the door’s arc where it swings freely.

Before you start sanding: you want to avoid pulling off any strips from a veneer that may be covering the door’s surface.  To avoid that, first sand the trailing edge of the door (that is, the side that hits last when you’re slamming it into the sandpaper), so it isn’t caught and pulled while you slam.  Also consider using a finer grit of sandpaper, which would add a few minutes to the sanding, and opening-and-closing on the sandpaper with less force.  Keep an eye on the veneer throughout the process.

Now, slam the door into the paper stack so that it sticks. In the process, it sands exactly the lowest point on the bottom of the door. Keep swinging it back and forth, slamming it into the sandpaper. As you make progress in shaving the door, you may need to add pages to the stack or move it closer to the point where the door sticks.

Test periodically. In a few minutes you’ve removed a millimeter or two from the bottom of the door and it should swing freely, without altering the look of the door or needing to remove it.

Besides the convenience of this solution, I enjoy its elegance: by replicating the act of making contact with the floor it shaves the door in precisely the right place.

Categories
DIY Making Repair

Mending knee holes with sashiko

I love repairing things. For several years I’ve hoped to take up sewing to extend my fixing skills to clothing. Sheltering-in-place during COVID-19 has provided opportunities to try my hand at mending ripped knees in my family members’ pants. It feels good to sit in peace and make something whole again. Apparently I’m part of a trend, with mending and in particular visible mending gaining in popularity.

I asked my friend Cassie where to start in mending holes in knees and she pointed me to the book Mending Life, which had steps that were thorough, clear, and seemed doable – with handy illustrations (pp. 96-103). So I took a shot at it. So far I’m 3 of 3! None are perfect but all three exceeded my expectations. Below are photos.

Specifically, I have been trying to emulate sashiko, a Japanese decorative reinforcement stitching technique. I sewed the first patch with a piece of thick thread I found in my sewing box. The next two I did with proper sashiko needles and thread I ordered online. (As with most of my things, if you live near me and want to borrow them, just ask).

I chose contrasting thread and patches to emphasize the repair jobs. I’m proud of my work, it normalizes repair and reuse, and frankly I think the unique & visible mends leave the clothing looking better than it did new.

Sashiko patch #1: women’s jeans

The ripped fabric at the knee was exploding outwards. It was begging to be patched with the “exposed edge technique” (Mending Life), with an interesting pattern poking through.

Categories
DIY How-to Making

Building a compost bin out of pallets

The project: My mother-in-law had long expressed interest in composting her food scraps, but didn’t care for the plastic bins available for purchase. I’d been interested in building such a bin by reusing salvaged lumber, mostly discarded wood pallets. This presented a fun challenge: construct a compost bin that satisfied her aesthetic requirements and followed my principles of reuse.

It turned out well: it’s attractive (in a rustic way) and functional, though took longer to build than I expected. Breaking down pallets was a big chunk of that time overage: they were free in monetary cost but not in the time they took to process.

After weathering its first winter

Design: I built it probably a little too big, 32″ L x 30″ W x 29″ H. Compost bins have to solve for the problem of emptying the finished compost (after a year or so) while leaving in place any recently-discarded food. In bins like this, which will be emptied via a not-yet-installed door in the bottom of the side (see below), that separation is achieved by the depth of the pile. The bottom of the pile, with older finished compost, is no longer turned, while the fresher, unfinished material rests on top. In a narrower bin, the walls support layers of material such that the top layers can be left in place while the bottom is scraped out. This bin may be too big to neatly do that. Perhaps the over-sizing just means it can go a few years between emptying.

The slender buckthorn log on top was a last-second addition. It supports the lid in its open position so that the hinges don’t bear the door’s full weight. This bin is lovely and robust, but maybe overly complicated for task of turning food scraps into soil. The next bin I build may be much simpler, left unfinished and entirely open to the air with no lid to exclude animals.

The lid is resting on the buckthorn branch

Materials: In addition to many mismatching pallets, I used scrap 2x4s and plywood, plus fasteners and hinges I had lying around. To preserve the wood somewhat, while keeping it food-safe, I treated the wood with mineral oil and some stale cooking oils.

Breaking down the pallets into boards was a learning experience. I found that filleting them with a Sawzall was fastest. Expect to shed bits of nails wherever you work and choose a workspace accordingly. I also should have set a higher bar for the quality of pallets that I scavenged, as I wasted time freeing some boards that were unusable.

Breaking down pallets with a Sawzall

Build: the construction was straight-forward. I screwed together 2x4s to make the posts, cut and installed the pallet boards to make the sides, framed out the top and the lid, installed the lid. Remember to leave a gap at the back of the lid panel so that the edge can rotate up when the lid is opened.

The irregularly-cut 2x4s framing the top are cross-pieces from the pallets

Installation: I used a post-hole digger to install the bin, sinking the posts in place. After a few weeks of use, it appeared that an animal had accessed the bin by tunneling a small hole in the dirt under one wall. So I dug a 10″ trench around the perimeter and inserted sheets of metal hardware cloth in the trench, fastening it to the posts that were sunk in the ground. That was it for animals; the lid is too heavy for a raccoon and there are no bears here.

What’s next: Still left to do is installing a door in the bottom of one side. Then, in a year when the bottom layer of compost is ready to be emptied, I’ll scrape out the finished compost through that door. I plan to secure the bottom few boards to each other with wood strips, then unscrew their ends from the posts they’re attached to, and install hinges so that those boards can swing up together. (And add a latch to secure the door).

To spread out the time required by this project, I didn’t build the emptying door before putting the bin into use. Aside from having to work with compost-covered boards, we’ll see if I’ve failed to consider any mechanical problems introduced by postponing this feature.

I reserved some extra pallet slats, assuming that some wood will decay with time/ I should be able to swap in new pieces as needed to keep the project going. I’d be pleased with a lifespan of 20 years for this bin, after which it too can become compost. Planning the eventual obsolescence of a project is new for me; perhaps I’m thinking more timefully.